Migrants

Photo by Peter Kessler

They flew in shield shape, banking together. Not a bird was out of formation. The fluid group landed in a mulberry where they plucked juicy fruit, bringing the tree to life with their acrobatics and mid-air high jinx.

Such handsome fellows, masked like robbers, with subtle rusty red and muted yellow highlights on their mourning dove grey cigar bodies.

My camera disrupts them, but not before I have a picture. A silent order travels through the troupe, wings flutter together, they move with one mind. They will be back; they have no choice. It’s how they earn a living.

Today’s Word:Acnestis (akˈniːstɪs)

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Acnestis. It’s the itch you can’t scratch. There, between your shoulder blades. A complaint that won’t leave you alone. A retort you don’t think of ’til it wakes you at night, meanly appropriate and well deserved by the jerk who prompted it. Destructive fake facts based on dystopian fantasies.

You can’t scratch that itch because: the complaint can never be satisfied, your retort is not suitable for work, the lie is one of many seeking freedom from being scratched.

Define the parameters and set up a fair fight. Keep scratching until truth bleeds through. You’re not the only one itching.

If Those Three Words Were a Statue, We Could Take it Down.

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“Merciless Indian savage.” The Declaration of Independence contains these hateful words.

I did a double take when I saw the phrase emblazoned on a tee shirt in Southwest Alaska. The dark-haired girl wearing it was laughing with a friend. Her bright eyes and brilliant smile offered a refutation to the offensive words.

Contrast the clutch of fishermen on the ferry who bristled with antipathy as a Native man walked past. I stared at them, a witness. Spoke as an ally when the local clinic turned away a Native who needed emergency treatment. The founding fathers got those three words wrong.

Freecycle the Election

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Offer: Votes counted, recorded
 Wanted: Respect the process
 Wanted: Respect the poll workers
 Wanted: Respectful governance
 Offer: Divisive grandstanding
 Wanted: Cooperation, infrastructure fixes, progress on climate change, social justice, fair wages and workplace equity, election reform, Covid stimulus, policies informed by science
 Wanted: Problems solved
Offer: Solutions denied
 Taken: by “fake news”
 Offer: More of the same
 Wanted: Critical thinking
 Offer: Knee-jerk opposition  
 Taken: The path of least resistance
 Taken: in by divisive grandstanding
 Given: More of the same
 Offer: Both sides media
 Wanted: Fact based media
 Wanted: Fact based politics
 Wanted: Starting now: communicate, listen, empathize, come together. 

Not An Emergency

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There was a fight about money after my father’s funeral, though money played no part. The details don’t matter. Proximity: same car, same hotel, same any building and we erupt. It would have been a ruckus except our husbands intervened. My sister pushed a finger at my chest. Ghosts burned through me. We could have been scrambling over sharp-edged furniture into the emergency room.

The argument was predictable, something to schedule for a convenient time. A time free of hot flashes and cold stares. After forty years of not settling things, the fracas was expected, even anticipated. Not an emergency.

Okra Wisdom

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I’m very picky about my okra. So when my daughter tells me to keep what I touch at the Farmer’s Market, I tell her she’s crazy. I will stay picky. The only way to know okra’s good is to touch. Some big ones have the velvety feel of tender youth. Some small ones are hard and almost prickly on the fingers. They are okay in soup or gumbo. But not dipped in batter and fried in the wok.

People look, pull up masks, move. I know, virus. But nobody eats okra raw.

College educated daughter. They don’t teach cooking there.

The Staff of Life

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After a harrowing journey over steep gravel roads, after morning meditation sessions and before soaking in natural hot springs, you devoured Tassajara bread for breakfast. The cookbook made its way to your kitchen, instructing you in the art of turning gloppy sponge into sweet wheat loaves. Mmm… scrumptious with butter, jam and dark roast coffee.

It’s been a long journey enriched by frequent meanderings and yeasty experiences. Learning that satisfaction lies in a perfect translucent stretch of the dough that proves the kneading is done. Bread has secrets. It takes time. Like a good friend, bread must be patiently tended

Writing in a Pandemic

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For the past month, a Tarot card that means reprieve has consistently found its way into my weekly story prompt. Sometimes it defines the question. Sometimes it’s the unknown quantity that might determine the outcome. Either way, reprieve is in the cards.

I find this comforting. Whether a reprieve from a broken Washington, a reprieve through self-knowledge or a reprieve via creative insight, all of it seems good. And I see this theme cropping up in places besides my Celtic Cross spreads. My writing group met on Zoom this week. We are normally very disciplined, sticking to the text of the pieces we are discussing, offering useful comments about improving our stories. This week, the sense of loss evoked in the writing provoked a different response that reverberated through the group.

I find myself wondering how much of it was the fictional stories we reviewed and how much of it was the proximity of loss all around us that bled into our comments. In e-mails after the group, one member revealed that a family member had died of the virus. Another commented that we may need to be prepared for more losses as this pandemic runs its course. And though it is unusual to discuss personal issues in our group, the underlying impetus for much writing is personal loss.

My husband tells a story that may be germane here. A friend of his from college, an English major, saw his first snow during his freshman year at an Eastern college. They were walking across campus, white flakes drifting into piles of white flakes. The African student said, “You know that snow means death.” Such a normal phenomenon across most of the United States is a literary symbol which becomes potent when it overcomes the barriers that we erect against it. Heated buildings, roaring fires, protective snow gear, all the ways that man overcomes nature. Until, as in Jack London’s To Build a Fire, nature overcomes man.

As a culture, we have celebrated rugged individualism. We’ve gone into the wilderness, positive that we would return, sure of being protected from the worst by our pluck, ingenuity, entrepreneurship and free market economy. But some things require a group and to be a group, we need to pull together. We need to listen to the advice of people who know more than we do. That means finding some other song to sing besides America First.

We do need America to come together, but that’s not enough. The virus is here. The means to fight it are spread around the world. Isolation is the first defense. But cooperation can’t be far behind or we risk freezing to death as a result of our own stubborn denial regarding the risks. And unlike a man freezing in the wild, we will take others with us if we can’t admit that we need each other.

There are two versions of To Build a Fire. In one version, the protagonist dies. In the other, he sustains frostbite and becomes a wiser person. We could use a little wisdom as we fight our battle with nature. Reprieve is in the cards, the question is how we go about making that happen and how much damage we sustain before the pandemic is over.

Reflecting on Fiction

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A story is a cocoon from which to see the world. It might be exciting. It might be pointed. It might give a glimpse into another world or a look at another side of this one. It might use flowing language, plain language, or the kind of terse language that cuts to the quick, leaving the reader wounded by a lightning strike aha. Sometimes the picture says more than the words. Sometimes the words create a picture. There are so many possibilities. Here’s hoping that in 2020 we can find respect for the story no matter who tells it.

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Wishing all a happy and productive year in 2020. In case you didn’t see this New York Times Op Ed, I’ll pass it on as a follow up to something I wrote after the fire. Hoping for good news about the cathedral next year.

There Will Be No Christmas at Notre-Dame December 24, 2019 New York Times

One Way Airport Call

man wearing pink polo shirt with text overlay
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His accent moved around a lot, a swampy Southern drawl that sped up to nail a point. It was all factual– temperature, weather, numbers, deals notched up on a piece of wood like hunting prizes. If he had talked about bagging a couple of ducks, it wouldn’t have surprised me.

The way he talks makes me wonder if anyone is on the other end. Self talk, tons, clothed in cliched business garb.

Then, he’s staring straight through me, absorbed in his own thoughts. His gaze is steely, purposeful, crushing. Competition and victory are the only things that matter to him.